How is the PMBOK like Wikipedia?

When you are stuck in traffic, you have free time — just kidding — for random thoughts to bubble up into your conscious mind. On one such occasion, I found myself considering the similarities between the construction of articles on Wikipedia and PMI’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBoK).

At first, these two entities may not seem to have much in common, but bear with me. A wiki is a Web site developed collaboratively by a community of users, allowing any user to add and edit content. The best-known wiki is Wikipedia, formally launched on 15 January 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, using concepts pioneered by Ward Cunningham. The idea behind a wiki was to create an information repository where anyone — hopefully with domain expertise — could add topic content, which could in turn be edited or commented on by others. The result of the collaborative input should provide useful and valid content on a wide range of topics. Today, Wikipedia has over four million articles.  And Wikipedia is also has an administration and governance model for administration, oversight and management of the content.

Wikis are not limited to Wikipedia. Projects use wiki tools to build a reservoir of project documents and facilitate collaboration among project staff, especially when they work in separate locations. The Twiki Workspace project, for example, provides a set of tools to manage projects, facilitate collaboration, and maintain project documents, forms and policies as well as supporting social networking on the project. The core software can be downloaded using open sources and the tools are available for purchase in bundles for 5 users or 25 users.

So, what does this have to do with PMBOK?

From its beginnings in 1981 when the PMI Board of Directors approved the development of a book detailing procedures and concepts necessary to support the profession of project management, the effort was a “collaboration”. Twenty-five volunteers from local PMI chapters wrote the sections of the report. Review and comment on the evolving standards was solicited from organization membership through a series of circulated working drafts and workshops. The process to reach “A Guide to the Project Management Book of Knowledge” took several years. I wonder if they could have finished more quickly if they had had a wiki.

So the bottom line is – many executives who think the PMI PMBOK is a standard for Project Management do not realize that it is just a book of best practices that is put together by a group of PMs.  Remember that when you are implementing your processes on your project – you always need to apply the right processes to the type of project you are managing!

Personnel Issues in Project Management

As a project manager, there were times when I sincerely wondered if I would not be more successful if I just did not have to deal with people. People — my team, senior management, support staff and clients — can turn a simple task into a complex one or a straightforward decision into a need for lengthy, detailed analysis, when one least expects it.

Project management is a delicate task even if there are no unexpected people issues. However, when issues such as personality clashes, differing beliefs or downright miscreant behavior arise, it IS the project manager’s job to deal with it. Sometimes you can solve a personnel-related problem through leadership, mentoring and feedback. And, sometimes the best a project manager can do is minimize the impact that people issues have on the outcome of the project.

Perhaps the biggest internal personnel issue that can arise on a project is dishonesty from one or more project team members. While most people are not trying to be dishonest, a lack of full disclosure or omission of information in a status report harms a project in a direct way. Because a project manager must gather information from team members and consolidate that information with data from other tools to determine project status and risks, bad data means inaccurate reports, unidentified risks and potential project failure.

Another possible issue comes from experts assigned to the project who feel that they have the only right way to accomplish the project goals. Although expert input is undoubtedly beneficial, having a headstrong expert, either on the team or overseeing the project, can prove disastrous. This issue is exacerbated if the individual feels he is superior in either intellect or skill to the project manager, resulting in a situation where team members feel torn between following the instructions of the project manager or bending to the intellectual force of the expert. In my experience, the optimum tactic to deal with Mr. Right requires finding common ground, where the expert feels his input is appreciated, while the project leader maintains the ability to lead the team in the final decision.

Company executives can sabotage projects under their purview through the constant bombardment of the project manager for updates on the project. This can be a huge waste of time for the manager who has to take time from overseeing the team to prepare reports and engage in meetings. Of course, it is understandable that an executive wants updates on their project. Fortunately, this problem can be remedied easily if the project manager maintains a proactive approach to the executive and provides updates in a convenient and consistent way. In addition, by demonstrating a record of adherence to project deadlines, the project manager can build trust and hopefully alleviate the need of an executive to unnecessarily check status. Fortunately there are many new tools on the market which, when implemented correctly, can help the PM provide regular and better information to the executives and stakeholders.

Personnel issues that impact team productivity vary from the serious, such as harassment or discrimination, to the mundane. Toni Bowers lists some real-world examples in her post, “When does a personality quirk become a productivity issue?” such as, telling an employee that her personal hygiene is unacceptable, explaining to a staff member why he has to take down the decorative noose he has hanging in his office and telling an employee that his apparent infatuation with his own voice is driving your team to madness.

Edwin T. Cornelius III, Ph.D. writing for Collegiate Project Services offers advice on dealing with personnel issues in What to Do when People Problems Threaten Project Success – Part 2 suggesting:

  • Providing coaching and mentoring
  • Using a strong outside facilitator to mediate conflicts
  • Conducting team-building events
  • Training in problem solving techniques
  •  (as a last resort) Changing project personnel

I have suggested ways to implement many of these dealing-with-personnel techniques in previous posts.

Project Team Member Development

Using a retreat to move your project forward

Having Difficult Conversations

The Art of Verbal Communication

Can you facilitate your way to project success?

I hope you will take a few minutes to share your project management experience with personnel issues or suggest techniques you have found successful in solving personnel problems.

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